CUMBERLAND — U.S. Rep. John Delaney gave details on the new farm bill and took questions during an agricultural forum held in Allegany County on Thursday. Attended by about 60 local farmers and agricultural professionals, the event was held in the multipurpose building at the Allegany County Fairgrounds.
Delaney, who represents the 6th District, co-hosted the forum with Bill McGowan, the state director for rural development with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Although many issues were touched on during the forum, Delaney focused on updating those in attendance on the farm bill that recently passed the House of Representatives and is expected to be approved by the Senate.
“Last year was not a good year for Congress, as many of you know. Not a whole lot was done. We hope that will now improve,” said Delaney.
Despite the shortcomings, Delaney said that two important pieces of legislature had passed: a budget bill, which will keep the government running for two years, and a farm bill.
The news of the farm bill was well-received by many in attendance at the ag forum who have been dealing with an ongoing renewal of an antiquated 2008 farm bill.
“This farm bill is not a perfect piece of legislature. It is a compromise between the Senate and the House,” said Delaney.
The bill, known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, was passed in the House by a vote of 251-166, with 162 Republicans and 89 Democrats voting for it.
“At some point we all have to get along,” said Delaney, a Democrat.
Maryland, with eight congressional districts, had just two representatives voting for the new farm bill — Delaney and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic representative of the 5th district.
Farm bills have traditionally been, and remain, two-part combination bills. The bill provides support for farmers while it also contains an entitlement package called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
Delaney said the part that supports farms makes up about one-third of the bill. The new bill contains cuts for both farmer subsidies and food stamps.
“I did not like that the SNAP program was cut by $9 billion. But the bill is important to farmers so I voted for it,” said Delaney.
Delaney said the cuts in SNAP will not affect Maryland’s food stamp program.
Several of those in attendance objected to the ongoing lumping of the nutrition entitlement plan with the farming subsidy program.
“I’m not in favor of separating it. But I do understand your concern,” said Delaney.
Other changes contained in the bill include a shift by the government from direct-paying subsidies to distressed farmers, whether they grow or not, in favor of an insurance program that farmers pay into. The farmers can then receive a payout based on losses such as drought or severe price fluctuations.
“It’s net margin insurance to ensure profitability. Before, the government would just pay when the prices dropped,” said Billy Bishoff, a Garrett County dairy farmer.
“It’s a good piece of legislature,” said Bishoff.
Those attending asked many questions ranging from concerns over mandatory country of origin labeling, water quality, fertilizer and environmental restrictions to Chesapeake Bay regulations, hydraulic fracturing and energy policy.
On energy, Delaney said he favors a carbon tax. Those using the largest amount of fossil fuels, which damage the environment by releasing the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, would pay higher carbon taxes.
“With a carbon tax the private sector can fix the problem,” said Delaney.
Some in attendance expressed concern that their voices were not being heard in Annapolis.
Delaney, although not a state official, said he would be willing to arrange a meeting in Annapolis and get some state agriculture officials to hear local concerns.
Many at the agriculture forum expressed their appreciation for Delaney’s visit to Western Maryland.
“It was a worthwhile meeting. Some eyes were opened,” said T.R. Robinette, the president of the Allegany County Farm Bureau.
“It’s nice when he can hear the concerns. He can make sure the message can be carried back,” said Jim Raley, a Garrett County commissioner.
Greg Larry can be contacted at email@example.com.